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Boy Rescued After Being Buried Alive

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avatar Boy Rescued After Being Buried Alive
July 17, 2013 01:24PM
Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore (IN)
Boy Rescued After Being Buried Alive

On the afternoon of July 13th, LaPorte County 911 and park dispatch received simultaneous calls reporting that a child had fallen into a hole near the top of Mt. Baldy. A seasonal resource management employee and two Student Conservation Association workers were on scene almost immediately and began digging. Responders from the Michigan City Police and Fire Departments arrived within 15 minutes, with others close behind.

The first officer on scene saw a group of people frantically digging into the north side of the dune about midway between the beach and summit. They told the officer that a six-year-old boy had fallen into a cylindrical hole and disappeared. The boy’s seven-year-old brother said that they’d found the hole in the sand and wanted to see how deep it went. The younger brother disappeared below the surface after he climbed into the hole with the intent of standing in the bottom. The victim’s father said that he could hear his son crying for help, but could not see him.

As the family members attempted to dig the boy out by hand, the hole collapsed and filled with sand. As emergency personnel arrived, digging continued with hands and shovels. One hour of continuous work resulted in a pit about 30 feet wide and eight feet deep, with no sign of the child. High heat and shifting sand hampered the rescue effort. While hand work continued, local contractors were called to use heavy equipment to move sand away from the site.

At the peak of the effort, the operation involved approximately 50 rescuers, including National Park Service rangers and firefighters and responders from several local agencies, plus two tracked excavators and a backhoe. Probes were used periodically to feel for anything solid. Heavy equipment and shovels were used if nothing solid was identified. If the probes hit anything firm, hand digging was employed.

Within about three-and-a-half hours of the initial call, an estimated 200 cubic yards of sand had been removed from the site. At about 8 p.m., rescuers found the head of the boy at a depth of 11 feet from the original dune surface. The boy, unresponsive when found, was upright with his body extending into a cavity in the dunes. It appears that he was in a decayed root ball or trunk from a long buried tree. The boy was placed in the care of the Laporte County EMS. En route to the hospital, he spontaneously regained vital signs. He was airlifted to Comer Children’s Hospital of Chicago. At last report, the boy was recovering.

The response to this incident is a testament to the cooperative relationship between the park and local authorities. Interest in this incident is high and the public affairs officer has received calls from as far away as the United Kingdom. Evidence at the scene supports that theory that the boy encountered the remains of a tree buried long ago by the advancing dune. As the tree decayed, it left behind a shell of compacted sand and bark remnants. The boy possibly slid down the void left by the decaying trunk. Resource management staff had been on the same spot earlier in the day and saw nothing unusual. More than 150,000 people visit Mt. Baldy every year and there are no recorded incidents of this having previously occurred.

The Mt. Baldy area of the park is now closed until the park can accomplish a thorough review of the event and a safety assessment of the dune.
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